Starz Denver Film Festival wrap-up: Fact beats fiction

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While introducing a screening at the 36th Starz Denver Film Festival late last week, fest director Britta Erickson asked members of the audience how many people had seen 25 movies by then -- and a number of hands went up, with even more rising to confirm other ticket-holders had caught twenty or ten. Compared to these fortunate folks, I was an absolute slacker: Due to circumstances beyond my control (read: life), I only managed to attend seven. And of those, fact definitely defeated fiction.

See also: Starz Denver Film Festival's Big Night strikes gold with a small film: Nebraska.

We've previously shared our takes on the opening night feature, the corn-porny Labor Day, and Big Night focus Nebraska, easily our favorite of the flicks that flickered to life at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House during red-carpet presentations.

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"Resurrection of a Bastard."
But we also made it to The Resurrection of a Bastard, one of the most acclaimed works included in the fest's tribute to the cinema of the Netherlands. And we didn't come away singing its praises.

Yes, there's plenty of striking imagery on view amid this tale of Ronnie, a thug (played by Yorick van Wageningen) who begins to moderate his behavior after a near-death experience. But when the first nice thing you have to say about a movie involves the cinematography, there's a damn good chance the story and characters are lacking, and that was definitely the case with this particular Bastard. Director Guido van Driel, working from a screenplay he co-wrote, uses a splintered narrative approach that can't help recalling Pulp Fiction-era Quentin Tarantino. But neither Ronnie nor any of the others in his orbit are funny or verbose or compelling or tragic enough to sustain interest over the artsy time- and viewpoint shifts, and the quasi-surreal symbolism like that depicted in the image above feels tacked on rather than intrinsic to the tale as a whole.

On the plus side, you do get to see a guy have his eyeball sucked out by a vacuum cleaner. So, there's that.

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"Out of the Furnace."
The storytelling in Out of the Furnace is more straightforward. But the latest effort from Scott Cooper, who's best known for writing and director Jeff Bridges to an Oscar in Crazy Heart, is essentially a B-movie whose pretentiousness sucks out most of the potential fun.

Christian Bale is solid and watchable as always in the role of Russell, a mill worker in a dying steel town who winds up doing a prison stint after drunkenly killing a child in a car crash -- and upon his release, he finds himself in the position of protecting his little brother (Casey Affleck), whose economic desperation draws him into a doomed allegiance with a crank-addled backwoods fight promoter (Woody Harrelson). The picture pay overt homage to iconic works such as On the Waterfront with zero subtlety: For those who weren't already reminded of The Deer Hunter, Cooper helpfully includes a deer-hunting scene. But in the end, these elements feel secondhand and predictably by-the-numbers, not newly energized and freshly relevant. And yet another mopey, redundant, dark-night-of-the-soul Affleck performance almost makes me look forward to brother Ben's impending turn as Batman. Operative word: "almost."

Continue for more wrapping-up of the 36th Starz Denver Film Festival, including additional photos and reviews.


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